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Musical Gardens of the Mind

Don't crowd Albert Ahlstrom. He's one composer whose life demands open green space. So when the Atlanta Chamber Players commissioned Ahlstrom to write music, it was only natural that he respond with The Gardens of Mount Paran.

On the surface, the 16-minute excursion for clarinet, violin, cello and piano honors the woodsy, upscale northwest Atlanta neighborhood surrounding Holy Spirit Catholic Church, where Ahlstrom is principal organist. But the work's roots go much deeper, both physically and metaphorically.

"I lived in Manhattan for 10 years," says Ahlstrom. "I basically got through it because of Central Park. New York is incredibly stimulating, but I personally don't really like the level of energy and freneticism.

"The way I see these gardens are more interior gardens of the mind," says Ahlstrom, referring to historical concepts of gardens in Europe or the Middle East. "They were like slices of paradise, little areas of perfection in the middle of home or property to retreat, go and reflect and just enjoy life."

The work's three movements do not represent specific gardens, but elements in a traditional garden. Evidence their titles: "Reflecting Pool," "Moon Garden" and "Rose Arbor." Themes intertwine and cross-reference each other in ways that "make sense elliptically, afterward," says Ahlstrom, "the way modern films are made, or cubism [in visual art]. They become metaphors for the way a person's mind works in the 21st century, making sense out of chaos. Music and arts in any period are a conditioning for the brain or spirit to help it function in its environment."

The Atlanta Chamber Players premieres Albert Ahlstrom's The Gardens of Mount Paran at Holy Spirit Catholic Church Sun., May 9. 7:30 p.m. $15.